Appeared in Winter 1996, Vol. XXII, No. 4

Fritz Wilhelmsen and Bernard Lonergan first met in a hotel bar at an American Catholic Philosophical association convention forty-some years ago. Lonergan was already glued to a barstool when Fritz came in and headed for a seat several stools away. The brash young author of Man’s Knowledge of Reality had recognized the author of Insight but didn’t think that the converse held. He sat down quietly, not desiring an “encounter.” But after a few minutes Lonergan swiveled around and fixed eyes on him. “You don’t like my stuff, do you?”
It was one of the best understatements of the Thomistic revival. In Man ‘s Knowledge, Wilhelmsen had attacked the conceptualist theory of the judgment, and that was Suarez’s theory, and Lonergan took it for granted. But Wilhelmsen had not attacked Lonergan by name–not in those days-and was not to do so until years later (1972) when he was doing a stint in Washington and living in my apartment. There he banged out “The Priority of Judgment over Question: Reflections on Transcendental Thomism” for the International Philosophical Quarterly, and I did the footnotes.

So how did Lonergan know, on a barstool twenty years earlier, that the gulf between the two men was profound? Could a quibble over the judgment entail antithetical metaphysics? I will explain the matter as Fritz explained it to me, and I will do so as my tribute to him. For this “quibble” will serve to highlight what is supreme and “for the ages” in Fritz Wilhelmsen’s output as a philosopher.

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